A Research Synthesis of the Real Value of Self-Proclaimed Mobile Educational Applications for Young Children

A Research Synthesis of the Real Value of Self-Proclaimed Mobile Educational Applications for Young Children

Stamatios Papadakis, Michail Kalogiannakis
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1486-3.ch001
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Mobile devices are the preferred media choice for children, and their massive worldwide use has driven a new generation of software called mobile applications or apps for use in the educational context. But, while there has been an explosion of apps that are claimed to be educational for young children, there are large distinctions between the quality of the apps. Even though apps may provide an active, enjoyable, and engaging context, the question is whether they are attuned to children's educational needs. This study performed a meta-analysis and research synthesis of 22 studies published 2011 to 2019. In the study, journal articles and conference papers in the English language published during the period 2010-2019 were coded and analyzed. The findings provide evidence that very few of these so-called “educational” apps that have been evaluated and tested can promote children's intelligence and improve their learning performance.
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Interactive touch screen technology upended the smartphone market with the introduction of the iPhone and iTouch in 2007. But with the introduction of the Apple iPad on April 3, 2010 things changed. The general public had access to the first mass-produced touchscreen tablet with a 9.7-inch smooth glass surface. In a very few years, touch screen devices such as tablets emerged as an alternative to ‘traditional’ Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) interfaces, providing children, even at a very young age, with a new way of interacting with the digital technology without the need for external input devices such as mouse or keyboard. By using natural ways to interact with touch screen devices, young age users can express themselves in a natural way, enhancing communication and collaboration between them (Roldán-Álvarez, Márquez-Fernández, Martín & Guzmán, 2016). Furthermore, compared to other connected devices such as desktop computers and/or laptops, tablets are cheaper, and the addition of applications, better known as apps, make tablets multipurpose and more versatile than other digital devices. Thus, although the first tablet type device (iPad) was introduced for entertainment purposes, emerged almost immediately as the dominant mobile learning self-education tool (Kalogiannakis & Papadakis, 2017a, 2017b).

Additionally, tablets become the device of choice for young children because of their large screen size, high mobility, offline and online media streaming ability, decreasing cost and increasing interactive capabilities (Kabali et al., 2015). As a result, there is an increasing trend towards using mobile devices from the youth population as their touchscreens are just the right size for a young child to handle and operate (Wohlwend, 2017). Even children, as young as 2 years of age, can effectively learn and perform with these devices (The Michael Cohen Group, 2011). In the United States, the nonprofit organization Common Sense Media reported that the percentage of children aged from birth to eight years who have access to a mobile device at home had sharply increased in the past few years from 52% in 2011 to 75% in 2013 (Common Sense Media, 2013).

Given the high access and usage of Android/iOS tablets, it is not surprising that applications related to the use of these devices that claim to provide educational experiences for young children have similarly high rates of growth (Godfrey & Reed, 2013; Papadakis & Kalogiannakis, 2017a, 2017b). Mobile applications or ‘apps’ as they are less formally called are software programs for tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices (Common Sense Media, 2013). With the appropriate content and context, apps have the potential to positively transform the learning, while the use of interactivity and personalization features offered, motivate young learners to invest more effort in the learning task (Calder, 2015; Papadakis, Kalogiannakis & Zaranis, 2017). The playful nature of these apps is often appealing to children (Callaghan, 2018). In fact, the app targeted parents of younger kids (ages 3-6) dominate the mobile app market. Comparing 2009 to 2011, apps for toddlers and preschoolers’ apps in the Apple store saw the greatest growth, an increase of 23% (Shuler, Levine & Ree, 2012). The same researchers highlight the fact that with 58% of top 100 selling iOS apps targeted children in this age range. Another non-profit organization, Common Sense Media, reported that almost half the families in the United States had downloaded apps for their children to use (Rideout, 2017) in the form of games to encourage children to learn or to keep them busy at least (Dashti & Yateem, 2018). App developers claim that self-proclaimed educational apps can help children improve their learning skills and performance. In fact, developers are capitalizing on a growing market by creating a large variety of applications which are targeted at a young audience (Joe, 2018). Although these apps can engage students by making learning fun (Papadakis, 2018) in ways that are adaptive to different children needs, in fact, many of these ‘educational’ apps aren't the best way for young children to learn math, science and literacy skills (Callaghan, 2018).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Preschool Education: Is education that focuses on educating children from the ages of infancy until six years old.

Preservice Teachers: Students enrolled in an initial educator preparation program.

Early Childhood Education: Is a broad term used to describe any type of educational program that serves children in their preschool years, before they are old enough to enter kindergarten.

Mobile Device: The mobile device is a small-sized, portable computer that typically has touch-screen features.

APP: An app is a software application that works, generally, on a mobile technology such as a smartphone, tablet, or other similar device.

Smartphone: A smartphone is a term used to describe a category of mobile devices with computer-like functionality.

STEM: The term STEM is an acronym used by those relevant to the educational method concerning the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

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